Wednesday, 30 July 2014

The Bonus Material

Like a decent Blu-Ray, Krav Maga has a lot of supplemental material thrown in. Not only do I now feel more confident physically but I've recently realised just how much “good” stuff I get thrown in for free.

For example...

  1. Feeling useful
I like to feel useful. I like to feel I've helped someone. I also like to reassure those who look like they need it. At inductions this is entirely possible due to the newbies that turn up. You know the scene. Non club t-shirt, no groin guard and so queasy they look like they are about to audition for X Factor. A simple introduction and handshake seems to be appreciated and I try to partner newbies during the initial part of the lesson (at inductions with KMM we focus on the basic strikes for a while). I also attempt to be reassuring. Something I used to do and I see other people do if they're new, is to apologise whenever they hit their partner or successfully put them on the floor.

E.g. During “try and touch your partner's chest while they try and prevent it” you can hear a lot of embarrassed “Sorrys” and “You OK?” when someone gets through the other's guard. Also during headlock releases you can see the looks of unease on inductionees as bodies thud to the floor after having their faces grabbed. Again, being reassuring to those who aren't used to this can work wonders and put them at ease.

Best way to some this up would be “Feel free to kick my groin, it's protected. If you aim for my leg to try and be nice then that's gonna hurt!”

  1. Self confidence
This gets a boost due to the longevity of me doing Krav for 3 years. If you spar with someone you know is better than you, and even ONCE manage to land a hard roundhouse or right hook...then you feel great. I've never been a fighter and being able to face guys much better than me and, win or lose, walk away after touching gloves with your opponent it makes you feel much taller. Feeling that the techniques are coming together into a coherent pattern that you have incorporated into your muscle memory is cause for jubilation.

This ripples out to other areas of my life so I am less agitated in social or even work situations as I feel I can try more things and give them a good go.

  1. Paranoia Killer
I've always been a bit paranoid. Currently take Propranalol (try saying that drunk) in mild dosages to combat anxiety. It works wonders but a mixture of the beta blocker and Krav have made me realise that the world isn't out to try and hurt or upset me and, as Imi Lichtenfeld once said, “so that one may walk in peace.” Being able to walk down the main street without feeling anxious, nervous or (at night when the drunks are out like something from The Walking Dead) a great feeling.

  1. Ego Compacter
Another thing I've always had is a big ego. Not simply for self promotion but the desire that if something happened that was unjust or unfair then I HAD to do something. I joined the police in 2004 because I wanted to be a hero (and resigned in 2008 after finding out that they wanted anything BUT heroes in the force). I would see injustice and wade in. Like Liam Neeson tracking his kidnapped daughter in the movie Taken, I didn't have a “next step”. I'd simply wade in, with almost no fighting ability, an average size body and an ego that wanted to crush all bullies and perpetrators of injustice.

After doing Krav for over 36 months I can now weigh up a situation and walk away or try and defuse it verbally...without feeling like a pansy. I recently had an argument with a friend of mine who had drunk 6 bottles of Greek raki and was telling the girl I was dating that she “deserved better than Lance.”

Attempts to tell him to back off were met with the response “you want to get into it with me? Coz it won't last long!” and due to my obvious anger, my date got upset. I stayed calm and vowed to speak to my mate when he was sober. Next day he had no memory of the incident and was embarrassed and apologetic. Had my older self been there, there would have been at the very least some pushing and shoving, followed by the two hulking sons of the Greek owner of the pool bar we were drinking in, breaking it up and asking one or both of us to leave.

Krav is about avoiding the confrontation unless necessary. Best comparison was an incident 10 years ago in Moldova when a local guy insulted the woman I was with, Helen, and called her a whore for drinking with foreigners. I was very drunk and followed him into a room (where about 4 of his mates were waiting for him) and demanded he say sorry to Helen. Next thing the barman took my gently by the arm and pulled me away. I felt that honour was satisfied but Helen said to me the next day “I wasn't bothered by him. He was just some stupid guy. Moldavian men sometimes carry knives or even guns. You could have got yourself killed and for what? To prove you are better than him?”

Avoid the fight, don't let your ego put you in the morgue.

  1. Fitness
Only after a month in Crete do I realise just how easy it is to get unfit VERY quickly. First two days of my 4 week holiday I was drinking and smoking and not gettng hangovers. Within a week I was sleeping all day and swearing at daylight ("God's Flashlight" as I call post drinking summer sun beams). Getting back into Krav afterwards was hard but now I am back on course and can remember that wonderful feeling of feeling fit. My day job means I do a LOT of walking but cardio fitness is another bag entirely. Being fit enough to survive a P4 grading (see here for that story) is a great feeling and when my body feels strong, I feel I can achieve almost anything. 

Saturday, 26 July 2014

For Granted

Something that I've always known, but kind of forgot, was that fitness is something you constantly have to sustain. Unless you're 18 years old you can't retain a six pack stomach and big pecs unless you strive for them.

Recently I spent a month in Crete. I drank heavily, partied regularly and ate lots of saturated fat, red meat and generally unhealthy but delicious stuff. I also drank at least 5 pints of lager a day (and usually more) and did a ridiculous amount of shots.

I'm not boasting about any of this but getting back into Krav Maga has been tortuous to say the very least. I deliberately left it for nearly a week before I went back and felt like shit all through my first session.

The following night I went to a seminar my club was holding and felt a bit better, although my concentration was wavering. Last night I went again and while I managed to get stuck in, my breathing felt like acid coming up through my oesophagus and when I tried an abdominal exercise I found my core stability had been shot to shit by the lack of exercise in the previous weeks.

Someone told me that if you are at a reasonable or high level of fitness it will take ONE MONTH of training to regain every WEEK that you didn't train.

Before I went away there were several lovely moments of Kravdom that made me feel like a warrior king.

For example...

At the Solihull class the instructor Al, got us to do a cardio based warm up exercise where one bit was inclined push ups. I did more and finished faster than ANYONE else on my group of 5, even though every other lad in the team was at least 20 years younger than me.

Another time a young bloke turned up for an induction and had to leave to throw up halfway through due to being unfit. I asked him his age and smiled to myself when he said he was 25, eighteen years my junior.

So...all that wonderful fitness and cardio based badassery has now gone for a holiday of its own. While I can still fight I tire much quicker, sweat much more profusely and my chest burns with a Sahara like intensity once heavy moving and striking gets going.

Something I took for granted (without even meaning to) was my fitness and now I'm paying for it big time.

Knowing you are strong and fit is a wonderful feeling. Wanting to power vomit due to running for 5 minutes is totally shit.

Bring on the rocket and baby leaf salads and my trusty bicycle.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

(Under) Stand Your Ground

A few short years ago, before I was into Krav, and for sometime after. I would be stubborn if faced with confrontation. I couldn't fight. Hadn't been able to all my life...but I would stand my ground and get knocked down or worse if necessary JUST to prove that I wasn't a coward.

My attitude at the time was: “You may be able to punch me out, you may be able to beat me up but I'm gonna show you that I'm not afraid.”

In 2009 me and some friends got caught having a midnight swim in a pool bar in Crete. It was my friend Hannah's 27th birthday and she loved the bar and spent most days there drinking and swimming and sunbathing. Turns out that Cretans loathe trespassers and so the owner climbed out of his chalet with a three-pronged harpoon and threatened me with it, puncuated with lots of swearing and grunts of “malaka!” which means “wanker” and is about the most insulting thing you can say to someone else in Greek.

I was monumentally angry at this and being drunk told him to go fuck himself. I then added “we'll leave OK but there's no need for THAT!” I beckoned the others over to get out the pool while the old man's son climbed out of HIS chalet in just his boxer shorts and stood next to his father protectively, glaring at me. As my friends gathered their stuff the old guy suddenly lost it and span around as Hannah bent over to get her purse and whacked her hard across the arse with the metal handle of the harpoon (this fucking thing was BIG. Sort of device you'd fire at a dolphin). It made an audible “crack!” and I tried to get in between them shouting “What the fuck are you doing?!!”

Next thing I know I'm on my back as the son had just punched me in the head. I leapt back up yelling “DON'T HIT THE WOMEN!” and again stood in between them. My friends bolted (including, depressingly, the only other male from the group who was the first to run for the sanctuary of the road) while I stood there, palms up facing these two until I was certain that my pals had gone.

Bottom line was. It ended badly, I got knocked down, but I had stood my ground and for that I felt proud.

Problem is....had I simply backed off when I saw the old man with the harpoon thing. Had I not lost my temper and sworn at him. Had I not shouted at him and then stood my ground then he probably wouldn't have lashed out the way he did. Cretans HATE trespassers and his overly aggressive posture and attitude were possibly just for show as I later found out that with no entrance gate, this bar gets people taking drunken swims at 3am at least once a week.

Now, with 3 years-ish of Krav Maga under my patch and the rank of P4 (stick defences resit pending) I find it much easier to suppress my ego and pride and think of a common sense option for what is happening in front of me. Recently I got threatened by some gobby shitbag in the street. Instead of getting into a slanging match and possible fisticuffs I pretended to call the police via my headphones and the lad buggered off once he thought the “filth” were on the way.

This year in Crete some guy groped me on the dance floor of a local disco bar. I twisted his hand away as I'd been taught and instead of freaking out or breaking his nose, simply shook his other hand (while still holding his finger) and told him not to do it again.

Ultimately Krav at its essence is about NOT fighting. It's about avoiding confrontation unless you have absolutely no choice. It doesn't make you a coward for not fighting. Instead it realigns your sense of what is important, necessary and appropriate in a situation.

Wading in fists flying and yelling may look impressive but is likely to get you killed.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Common Sense Before Valour

For the last 4 weeks I've been in Plakias. A wonderful holiday resort in Crete, Greece that my father retired to about 17 years ago. Officially it's a fishing village with an indigenous population of about 150. Unofficially it's a party town from May to October where people go to have a lot of F.U.N.

When I set off I had every intention of visiting a Krav Maga club in Athens on the mainland of Greece and training for one session with a club there. This was all arranged via e-mail before I set out but then life got in the way. The Greek KMG director was at the International Director's meeting in Israel for the first chunk of my vacation and after that my brother got sick so that didn't occur (but will either later on this year or next summer when I go back).

My brother is into martial arts, holding a black belt in Judo and a blue belt in Jiu Jitsu. He also boxes, so set up a makeshift punch bag outside my dad's apartment, hanging from one of the wooden beams, and we had the grand total of TWO sessions on that before the hangovers began to conquer my desire to remain Kravvy.

I'd also vowed I'd continue my regime of 70 inclined push ups every day and 100 abdominal crunches. Happened the first day only.

Reality is, that unless you are very focussed and seriously “into” getting and keeping super fit, a holiday is not the place to try and keep up a training schedule.

I spent a month drinking heavily nearly every day; doing shots like they were going out of style; eating ice cream for pudding meal; gobbling down a full English breakfast about 4 days a week; wolfing down a pitta gyro at least once every 2 days (a kebab with chips in it); and having hangovers that made me contemplate genocide. I did virtually no exercise (couple of scuba dives, some swimming and a lot of walking) and would sleep in till about lunchtime most days

Bottom line is that I'm now officially unfit. As much as I want to go back to Krav and train with my club again, I'm also well aware that my body needs just a little TLC before I throw myself back into this. My chief instructor Bartosz is one of the best there is, and being that good he expects a commitment from his students that I'm normally happy to give. Last year though, I came back from Plakias after a month of doing whatever the hell I liked, and nearly puked during the warm up...about 5 minutes into the session.

So this year, I've got a different plan.

On the plane from Crete to London I ordered a cup of tomato soup and a pot of lentils with spicy couscous (menu option 5), even though I was salivating at the thought of a bacon and cheese hero sandwich, a cup of filter coffee and a Twix chocolate bar (menu option 2).

I landed back in England yesterday morning at 2am (Saturday 12th July) and slept like the dead until about 11am once I got home. I had bran flakes for breakfast, and made some soup and had a fruit smoothie for lunch and dinner. That night I chilled out in front of the TV with season 2 of “Sons of Anarchy” and again slept like the recently deceased until 11am today. I went for a bike ride of 5 or so miles (about half the distance I usually go) and came back and had a cup of soup for lunch.

I know guys who hurl themselves into Krav at every given opportunity, even if hungover or ill. Problem is that that usually invokes further issues and even possibly prolonged absence from training due to making their bodies feel a hell of a lot worse. Having trained while “under the weather” I know how you must feel at least 95% fit in order to gain anything from sports, especially something as cardio-based as Krav Maga.

My body is different now to how it was a month ago. I've gained about half a stone, I have a lot less stamina and my endurance is low. Not to mention that anyone using the toilet after me currently needs to take a canary in a cage in there with them.

Either later this week or early next week, I will return to my club and get stuck in. I'm itching to go back there now, but won't. One of the things Krav has showed me is that sometimes it pays to be patient and not run but walk.

So that one may walk in peace. Not fall to pieces.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

The (Slightly) Kravvy Bit of the Holiday

Just winding up a wonderful 4 weeks in Plakias, Crete, Greece. Plakias is a fishing village in the south of the island with an official indigenous population of 130. However from May to October it's a haven for backpackers, returnees and ex pats who swell the residents to over 4000.

My father retired out here in 1996 and I try to spend at least a month a year here; going scuba diving, swimming, cliff jumping, hiking..and of course drinking till about 5am.

Some time ago a newbie at my club asked me if I'd ever had to use Krav Maga in real life. Answer was "no" as the only time the opportunity occurred it was in a bar brawl (ironically at a Plakias reunion in London) and I got my arse handed to me, mainly as I'd been doing Jager bombs and had sunk about 6 pints of lager when things kicked off. I'd recently passed P2 which made the experience all the more humiliating.

This summer I can now finally answer "yes" to that question, due to the unwanted attention of a lecherous and drunken gay bloke in a disco bar.

Me and a mate plus the girls we were dating went up to Ostraco, which has two floors, the upper one being used for dancing with a great balcony and the owner/ manager Iannis playing video tracks to dance to via a massive cinema screen at one end. I had had a lot to drink and was dancing merrily with my mates when I felt a pair of hands grab my chest from behind and start squeezing gently. Assuming it was my pal Eve, who has a habit of doing that, I played along for a few seconds before glancing down to see the hands were far from dainty and decidedly hairy. 

I broke the guy's hold by grabbing his hand and spinning round, attempting to wrist lock him. Being drunk I fumbled it and managed what could be best described as an "index finger lock". I stood there glaring at him while holding his finger and he squealed:


I extended my other hand for a handshake (while still holding his finger and giving it a slight twist) and replied:

"Don't think we've been introduced. My name's Lance. DON'T do that again!"

He shook my hand, I let his finger go and him and his mate walked out.

I told Iannis the owner who looked furious and went "WHERE IS HE?!!" but I assured him that it wasn't a big deal and the guy had gone.

Very glad that I actually reacted to that the way I'd been trained to and that despite being three sheets to the wind my first instinct was to do what my Krav instructor had told me.